E-3 Sentry (AWACS)
The E-3 Sentry Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft is the U.S. Air Force’s primary aerial command and control aircraft. Based on the civilian 707 commercial aircraft, the AWACS features a 30-foot wide rotating radar dome than scans a wide area for aerial threats and traffic.
The dome is 30 feet (9.1 meters) in diameter, six feet (1.8 meters) thick, and is held 11 feet (3.33 meters) above the fuselage by two struts. It contains a radar subsystem that permits surveillance from the Earth's surface up into the stratosphere, over land or water. The radar has a range of more than 250 miles (375.5 kilometers). The radar combined with an identification friend or foe, or IFF, subsystem can look down to detect, identify and track enemy and friendly low-flying aircraft by eliminating ground clutter returns that confuse other radar systems.
The radar and computer subsystems on the E-3 Sentry can gather and present broad and detailed battlefield information. This includes position and tracking information on enemy aircraft and ships, and location and status of friendly aircraft and naval vessels. The information can be sent to major command and control centers in rear areas or aboard ships. In time of crisis, this data can also be forwarded to the president and secretary of defense.
In support of air-to-ground operations, the Sentry can provide direct information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and close-air support for friendly ground forces. It can also provide information for commanders of air operations to gain and maintain control of the air battle.
As an air defense system, E-3s can detect, identify and track airborne enemy forces far from the boundaries of the United States or NATO countries. It can direct fighter-interceptor aircraft to these enemy targets. Experience has proven that the E-3 Sentry can respond quickly and effectively to a crisis and support worldwide military deployment operations.
The E-3 can fly a mission profile approximately 8 hours without refueling. Its range and on-station time can be increased through in-flight refueling and the use of an on-board crew rest area.
The E-3 Sentry has been in the Air Force inventory since 1977 and the service has 32 aircraft in its inventory.